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State Strategies for Investing in Community Schools

By Anna Maier Adrian Rivera-Rodriguez
Teacher holding a plant while students study it with a microscope.

The community schools strategy transforms a school into a place where educators, local community members, families, and students work together to strengthen conditions for student learning and healthy development. As partners, they organize in- and out-of-school resources, supports, and opportunities so that young people thrive. A growing number of states are investing in community schools as a strategy to address long-standing social inequities that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on a review of state American Rescue Plan Act plans, as well as state legislative and state education agency websites and other online resources, this report describes community school initiatives in eight states. The report highlights three potential approaches to state support for community schools: (1) ongoing support through school funding formulas, (2) competitive grant funding, and (3) capacity-building supports (such as certification processes).

Ongoing Support Through School Funding Formulas

Maryland and New York have provided ongoing investments in community schools through school funding formula allocations. Maryland has adopted an entitlement grant approach for high-poverty schools, while New York has created a set-aside in its school funding formula. These funds can be used to support community schools staff, as well as programmatic supports for students and families.

  • Maryland established the Concentration of Poverty grant program to provide annual community school personnel grants to eligible schools, along with additional per-pupil grant funding for each eligible student.
  • New York created a community schools set-aside in its school funding formula for high-need districts and funded three regional technical assistance centers for community schools.

Competitive Grant Funding

Other states have invested in community schools through competitive grant programs supported by general state funding, federal emergency relief funds, or a combination of federal and state resources. These grant programs address both the planning and implementation of community schools. Funds can be used to cover various costs, including assets and needs assessments, staffing, programs and services, and data collection and evaluation efforts.

  • California made a historic $4.1 billion investment in planning, implementation, and coordination grants—as well as technical assistance—for the state-funded California Community Schools Partnership Program. This investment is intended to provide sufficient resources for every high-poverty school in California to become a community school within the next 5 to 7 years.
  • Illinois used federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding to establish the Community Partnership Grant program and help address pandemic recovery efforts.
  • New Mexico provided state funding for community school grants administered by the New Mexico Public Education Department, including both planning and implementation.
  • Vermont passed Act 67 (the Community Schools Act) as a recovery strategy for small and rural communities across the state impacted by COVID-19, using federal ESSER funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to develop a competitive pilot grant program.

Capacity-Building Supports

Some states support community schools through capacity-building approaches, such as school certification programs. These include coaching and support for participating sites.

  • Florida has provided funding to support a community schools certification process developed and administered by the University of Central Florida’s Center for Community Schools through the provision of planning and implementation grants for participating sites.
  • Georgia, through the Georgia Department of Education, created a Whole Child Model School certification process for community schools, with a goal to help community schools develop and independently sustain a whole child education model.

Trends in State Support for Community Schools

Across the examples featured in this report, five trends have emerged that can help to inform states that are interested in supporting the development of community schools.

  1. A growing number of states are investing in community schools, using both discretionary federal funds and state funds. The state investments featured in this report range from $3.4 million to $4.1 billion, mostly occurring within the past 3 years. Most states are primarily or exclusively drawing on state funding sources, while some states are exclusively drawing on discretionary federal recovery funds (i.e., ESSER) and others are blending and braiding federal and state resources.
  2. States are adopting a range of approaches to supporting community schools—from capacity-building assistance to grant programs to ongoing school funding formula allocations—and many have increased the level of support offered over time. Some states have provided capacity-building supports, including certification processes and turnaround or innovation strategies. Others have invested in community school grants that are competitive and time-limited in nature. A third category of states has made ongoing investments in community schools through their school funding formulas with a set-aside or an entitlement grant program. Ongoing funding is a more predictable and sustainable source of support for districts and schools than grant programs that might be discontinued—an especially important consideration for the additional coordinative staffing required to implement community schools at the school and local education agency (LEA) level. However, grant funding can be increased over time and can serve as a precursor to establishing an ongoing funding stream.
  3. States typically prioritize community schools funding for the highest-need schools and districts. The featured states targeted schools and districts serving high-need student populations, defined in different ways. The threshold for defining high-need ranged from 40% of a student population (consistent with Title I) to 80% or more of a student population, often (but not exclusively) based on free or reduced-price meal eligibility.
  4. States are investing in evidence-based strategies to support community schools implementation. This includes evidence-based features of community schools: (1) integrated student supports, (2) expanded learning time, (3) family and community engagement, and (4) collaborative leadership. States are also investing in practices grounded in the science of learning and development, including trauma-informed supports and safe, inclusive, and equitable learning environments. Several states are including program evaluations in their grant investments to gain a better understanding of how these funds are implemented and what outcomes may result.
  5. State support often includes investments in technical assistance and other forms of capacity-building. Several states have invested in technical assistance to build the capacity of community school practitioners and grantees, either through the state education agency or in partnership with intermediary organizations. These state investments recognize the complex nature of community schools implementation and are especially important for school- and LEA-level staff who are brought on as coordinators to support students, families, school staff, and community partners.

State Strategies for Investing in Community Schools by Anna Maier and Adrian Rivera-Rodriguez is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

This research was supported by the Ballmer Group, W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Stuart Foundation, and Yellow Chair Foundation. Additional core operating support for LPI is provided by the Heising-Simons Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Sandler Foundation, and MacKenzie Scott. We are grateful to them for their generous support. The ideas voiced here are those of the authors and not those of our funders.

Cover photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages.